When area bands get booked for an outdoor event in August, it can often be the result of less competition. Other acts literally can’t stand the heat of South Florida’s hottest tropical summer month.
So what you’re most likely to see at an outdoor venue this month is a relatively recently formed tribute act. South Florida venue owners and managers don’t seem to look beyond bottom-line profits on any given day or evening, and they know that local listeners will show up to witness anything they’ve already heard, as opposed to something they never have.
Yet none of this, outside of an outdoor gig in August, applies to The People Upstairs. The 23-year-old, seven-piece band from Boynton Beach has blended rock, funk and reggae styles on multiple releases of original music. And when it plays a cover tune, it’s usually with a fresh creative arrangement rather than by the numbers. Over the past several years, the group also hasn’t had to rely on a lack of competition, or even on someone else, to get booked for its highest-profile late summer show. Instead, it has staged one of the most unique musical presentations imaginable on its own.
“Live at the Nut,” on August 26, is literally The People Upstairs’ semi-annual free boat gig. Aboard the Manatee Queen, the group will perform for anyone who is able to boat, paddle board, kayak or swim over to the sandbar in front of Peanut Island. The vessel can also accommodate close to 40 people, as long as they help pay for the charter. The Bryce Allyn Band, another popular South Florida act that’s led by the recognizable vocalist/guitarist from veteran Jupiter rock act Boxelder, opens the afternoon show.
“I’m really excited to perform at ‘Live at the Nut,’” says band leader Bryce Rutkowski, who uses his middle name as a stage moniker. “Especially with longtime musical brothers The People Upstairs. I can remember gigging with those guys 20 years ago.”
The People Upstairs got its name through rehearsing in the loft of lead singer/percussionist Casey Buckley’s family plumbing business around the turn of the century. But its personnel (rounded out by guitarist Chris Prestia, bassist/vocalist Tony Rangel, saxophonist/trumpeter Chris O’Brien, guitarist/vocalist Dan Carrol, keyboardist/accordionist/vocalist Cheese Vasquez, and drummer/percussionist/vocalist Forest Jones) goes back even further — as preceding drumline mates at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach. It’s no wonder that their music is rhythm-centric.
Now a boat owner who has his own swimming pool fencing franchise, Buckley became the logical captain of the “Live at the Nut” idea in the mid-2010s. Because the costly staging of the free show actually puts the band in the red, not to mention the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s been an intermittent event ever since.
“This will be the sixth year we’ve done this, but not in a row,” Buckley says. “I think the first year was 2014, and then we did it again in 2016. There’s usually around 200 people there, and it isn’t a case of everyone getting drunk and stupid. All who’ve attended have been, for the most part, very respectful of the water, the sandbar, and of each other. Now, it’s even become its own entity. Some people I talk to know about the event, which has its own website, but they don’t necessarily know that our band is presenting it.”
That mostly qualifies as a branding success. But in South Florida, where the average shelf life of a group is likely less than 23 months, 23 years puts The People Upstairs in extremely rare company. Its multi-genre sound is featured on the original releases Synchrofunkinicity (2007), For the People By the People (2011) and Take It How You Want It (2014). The group has concentrated on releasing singles since, like its reggae-tinged song and video “High and Dry,” and has new material that’s freshly released or forthcoming.
“We have enough material for a hybrid release between a handful of originals and some covers,” Buckley says, citing examples from Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” to Rihanna’s “Man Down.”
“Our latest single is called ‘Nomad.’ It was written around the time Ron Heavyside, owner of Nomad Surf Shop in Boynton Beach, died a few years ago. He was a local legend, so we eventually wanted to record a song and shoot a video for it.”
Buckley mentions all the expenses and literal moving parts that go into a Live at the Nut presentation, including renting the boat, acquiring the necessary generators, buying complimentary food and drinks, and setting up the list of those paying to witness the concert up close and personal aboard the Manatee Queen. But there’s always one other element that could move in.
“After all that’s settled, there’s still the wild card of weather,” he says. “But the Manatee Queen has the option of drop-down walls if weather rolls in. That way, it can be an inside event for the people on board if necessary.”
Here’s hoping that the sun is high, and the weather dry, on Aug. 26.
“So many of our shows are just us at a typical live music venue,” Rutkowski says of his quartet with guitarist/vocalist Mike Kerr, bassist/vocalist Yazmani Velazquez and drummer Chase Carlon. “I love teaming up with other bands to create something bigger than ourselves. And to be playing live on a boat near Peanut Island really makes this gig unique.”
If You Go
See The People Upstairs, with the Bryce Allyn Band, perform aboard the Manatee Queen for the audience in front of Peanut Island.
When: Noon-5 p.m. August 26. Admission is free
Info: 561-318-3380, liveatthenut.com